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There are dogs in space?

Not any more. But they got there before humans. Dogs were a key part of the Soviet space programme in the 1950s and 1960s. They were strays, caught on the streets of Moscow and extensively trained before taking to the skies. Most survived their experiences, and went on to live long, happy, healthy lives.

That sounds awful.

Yeah, you can definitely make a strong argument that it was. You can also make an argument that they lived far happier and healthier lives than their brothers and sisters who stayed on the streets. I think it's okay to celebrate their heroism while simultaneously recognising that testing anything on animals is deeply problematic.

What did we learn from these experiments?

The goal was largely to see whether humans could survive in space. The Americans used chimps to test the same principle, but the Soviets chose dogs because they were easier to train and look after, and didn't get as bored when sitting in a little capsule for hours and hours on end.

Did any of the doggies get to go on a spacewalk?

Sadly not. They were kept safe in their capsules, where their vital signs could be carefully monitored.

Where did you get this data from?

From Olesya Turkina's excellent book, Soviet Space Dogs. There's a list of all the space dogs in the back, which I manually transcribed into a database.

Did they use male or female dogs?

Both! Mostly male dogs to begin with, but as the missions got longer the researchers realised it was easier for female dogs to urinate in a confined space, so they shifted to using mostly female dogs.

Is there a Russian version?

I would love to make a Russian translation of this graphic. I have all of the dog names in Russian already. If you can help me translate the annotations, please get in touch.

What software did you use to make this?

I used Flourish to make a quick network diagram, and then exported a SVG which I designed in Figma. Figma's great, and it's free. If you do any kind of design work, give it a go.

Can I buy this as a poster?

Yes. Read the big text just above the FAQ.

Is there anyone you want to thank for helping out with this?

Yes! This couldn't have happened without valuable creative input from Eden Brackenbury, Andrea Limjoco, Silfa Hüttner and my colleagues at Information is Beautiful, and Amanda Makulec, Hemanth Nair, Will Chase, Chris Crawford, Marly Buitenhuis, Ben Childs and Ebba Henningsson from the Data Visualization Society.


- Duncan Geere, September 2019